Depending on your tolerance for complexity in the story, you’ll either get into or suffer through some business about ending world hunger, agricultural patents and political intrigue (remember this all started with an international biotechnology summit). Don’t fret. Everything is answered.
Liam Neeson continues his transformation into mystery man and action star with “Unknown.”
It’s a badly titled but fast-paced piece of cleverly confusing storytelling that will first have viewers wondering what’s going on and, later, satisfying them with all kinds of revelations.
Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris, an eminent researcher (or something) invited to take part in a biotechnology summit in Berlin, a city where in addition to snowing all the time, there’s really lousy cell phone service and bizarre taxi cab accidents occur frequently.
When Harris and his wife (January Jones) get to their fancy hotel, he realizes he’s forgotten his briefcase at the airport, so he hops in a cab to retrieve it. Cue the stunt drivers and stunt actors for a great accident sequence that ends with Harris in a coma at a Berlin hospital.
When he awakens four days later, Harris’ memory is fuzzy, and he wonders why no one’s been looking for him, particularly his wife. The kicker is that when he finally tracks her down, all she can say is, “Ummm, do I know you?”
Even better, the man (Aidan Quinn) now accompanying his wife, who also calls himself Dr. Martin Harris, looks at him and says, “Who the hell are you?” at just about the same time that Neeson’s Dr. Harris says the same thing to Quinn’s Dr. Harris.
One of the film’s best moments occurs later, when both men are speaking –– make that shouting –– the same dialogue at the exact same time. It’s funny, unnerving and nicely done.
As unlikely and improbable a direction the film takes, it’s also entertainingly watch-able. While the Dr. Harris we know and trust starts running around looking for any clues that might restore some normalcy to his life, he begins to wonder if he’s being followed. Or maybe he’s just becoming delusional. But wait, there’s also that business about his memory being spotty.
The film’s main success is that as things get weirder for him, it also gets stranger to watch. It neatly sucks the viewer right inside the protagonist’s addled mindset.
There’s eventually some help: He finds the cab driver (Diane Kruger) who ran away from the accident scene. He enlists the aid of a former East German spy turned private investigator (the great Bruno Ganz). But he also learns that he is indeed being followed, and the nasty-looking, cold-blooded fellows on his trail are leaving a murderous path behind them.
There’s a terrific buildup of tension through constant changes in the film’s pacing as well as plenty of camera movement. And there’ll be a good deal of nail biting during a lengthy, dazzling and dizzyingly choreographed car chase through the back streets of Berlin.
The intensity builds steadily, interrupted only by a brief breather before roaring right back even stronger.
Depending on your tolerance for complexity in the story, you’ll either get into or suffer through some business about ending world hunger, agricultural patents and political intrigue (remember this all started with an international biotechnology summit). And before long, you’ll start wondering about what was in that lost briefcase.
Don’t fret. Everything is answered, along with questions that no one could ever have thought of asking. Sure, there are a few too many switcheroo surprises near the end, but at least everything is explained about what was going on at the beginning.
UNKNOWN(PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.) Cast includes Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn and Bruno Ganz. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. 3 stars out of 4.